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International Skills, International Game: Guam Native Kristin Thompson Adding To Lightning Soccer Club Coaching Staff

  • Kristin Thompson, who plays international soccer for the Guam Football Association, rejoices over a goal with fellow U-13 Lighting Soccer Club co-coach Chris Spaulding during a game at Kimball Union Academy on Sunday. (Valley News - Libby March)

    Kristin Thompson, who plays international soccer for the Guam Football Association, rejoices over a goal with fellow U-13 Lighting Soccer Club co-coach Chris Spaulding during a game at Kimball Union Academy on Sunday. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Kristin Thompson, a one-time Guam women’s soccer international, is adding to the Lightning Soccer Club’s reputation for worldly youth soccer coaches. (Valley News - Libby March)

    Kristin Thompson, a one-time Guam women’s soccer international, is adding to the Lightning Soccer Club’s reputation for worldly youth soccer coaches. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Kristin Thompson encourages her team from the sidelines during a game at Kimball Union Academy. (Valley News - Libby March)

    Kristin Thompson encourages her team from the sidelines during a game at Kimball Union Academy. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Coaches Kristin Thompson and Chris Spaulding are thanked by player Patrick McGoone, of Cornish. (Valley News - Libby March)

    Coaches Kristin Thompson and Chris Spaulding are thanked by player Patrick McGoone, of Cornish. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Kristin Thompson, who plays international soccer for the Guam Football Association, rejoices over a goal with fellow U-13 Lighting Soccer Club co-coach Chris Spaulding during a game at Kimball Union Academy on Sunday. (Valley News - Libby March)
  • Kristin Thompson, a one-time Guam women’s soccer international, is adding to the Lightning Soccer Club’s reputation for worldly youth soccer coaches. (Valley News - Libby March)
  • Kristin Thompson encourages her team from the sidelines during a game at Kimball Union Academy. (Valley News - Libby March)
  • Coaches Kristin Thompson and Chris Spaulding are thanked by player Patrick McGoone, of Cornish. (Valley News - Libby March)

Hanover — The Lightning Soccer Club is well-known for its experienced and expert coaches. Fitting, then, that Kristin Thompson should find her way to it.

Joining former Zimbabwe national men’s team coach Charles Mhlauri on the Lightning coaching staff, Thompson is the latest to infuse the Norwich-based youth soccer outfit with international flare.

A native of Barrigada, Guam, Thompson spent eight years on the Pacific island’s national women’s team, helping it win three Marianas Cups — one of the top-level tournaments for small-island nations — and captaining the side twice during appearances in the East Asia Football Federation Championships as well as the South Pacific Games.

The 27-year-old also played four years at NCAA Division II Northland International University in Wisconsin, named an All-American twice while helping the Pioneers reach the national tournament as a freshman.

Yet Thompson brings so much more than top-notch playing experience to the Lightning. A bona fide ambassador of the game in Guam, she’s helped expand the unincorporated U.S. territory’s girls soccer youth programs remarkably.

After graduating from Northland in 2006, Thompson returned home to help the Guam Football Association National Academy subdivide the island’s youth into five age-group divisions. While she was growing up there, the competitive U-19 national team was the only non-recreation option for female youth soccer athletes.

“Besides (recreation) club teams, there was the U-19 national team and the national women’s team, and that was it,” said Thompson of the youth-soccer options on the 209-square-mile island. “There were about 12 clubs, and if you were good enough you might get called up to the (U-19) national team.”

Thompson did at age 15, and by 17 she’d been drafted to the national women’s team. She made an impact in the postseason of her rookie year, scoring the winning goal in a 1-0 defeat of host Fiji in the South Pacific Games in 2003 as Guam clinched the silver medal.

“The South Pacific Games are a pretty big deal for the islands,” she said. “Since we’re all too small really to compete in the Olympics, they’re set up so that the best athletes on the islands can still get an Olympic-type experience. They really make you feel like you’re in the Olympics.”

Thompson paid for her winning goal, being welcomed to the “big leagues” in a harsh way: “I was in a really big collision on the play, ended up with two black eyes and partially dislocated jaw. I finished the game on adrenaline.”

The second-oldest of seven siblings, Thompson headed to Northland University following her brother, Zach, who was a senior there. Located about an hour north of Green Bay, she struggled while adjusting to the difference in climate but still managed to be named the team’s rookie of the year and make the all-tournament team for the D-II National Invitational Tournament as a freshman.

Thompson was all-regional and All-American second team as a junior and again made the NIT all-tournament team as a senior.

“I was freezing, basically, the whole time I was there,” she said of transitioning from Guam’s tropical climate to the tundra of the Badger State. “I never would have ended up there if my brother wasn’t there, but it was a great experience.”

Graduating with a bachelor’s degree in office administration, with a minor in sports medicine, Thompson returned to Guam as an administrative assistant for the GFA while the organization expanded its youth offerings. She later became an office manager while coaching youth teams, the Harvard Christian team and competing with the women’s team.

“A typical day for me would be working in the office all morning, coaching the high school team from 3-5 p.m., coaching the national team from 5-7 and then training with the women’s team from 7-9,” Thompson said. “The one good thing about it was that the (youth and women’s national teams) were all in the same complex.”

Over the years, Thompson has developed a philosophy that female soccer athletes should be paired with female coaches as much as possible, citing implicit differences among male and female athletes in regard to their attitudes and absorption of the game.

“The difference between coaching boys and girls is so vast, it’s kind of crazy,” she said. “The biggest thing I’ve found is that boys are naturally competitive and that girls are there for the social aspect. Girls will get competitive, certainly, but not until they want to win for their friends on the team.

“Also, girls are more people-pleasers. They generally want to listen and do what you instruct, whereas boys are much more apt to say ‘I want to do it my way,’ or want to know why, exactly, you want them to do something.”

Thompson has fit in comfortably with both the girls and boys in the Lightning program since landing with the club in April. Coach Chris Spaulding has been impressed by what he sees as the uncanny coaching abilities Thompson possesses.

“Whether it’s the boys or the girls, she really has a way to get them to play for each other and makes every individual feel like part of the team,” Spaulding said. “And just to have someone with her resume on the coaching staff is amazing. She has so much knowledge and experience. When she can say to the kids, ‘I scored the winning goal against Fiji in an international tournament,’ they really love that stuff.”

Thompson’s U-18 girls teams finished second in the Granite State League this year, qualifying for the playoffs before a first-round exit.

Thompson hopes to stay on with the Lightning, one of northern New England’s preeminent youth soccer outlets. The club features more than 30 teams and attracts young athletes from 60 towns in New Hampshire and Vermont.

“Ever since I first applied and looked at the club’s website, I was impressed,” she said. “To have someone like Charles directing the program is huge, and it’s just a very solid group. You can see why it’s so popular.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.